Dartmouth Jewish Studies Chair Calls Pro-BDS Activist Appointed to Top Administrative Position ‘Great Friend’ Who Is ‘Very Supportive’ of Judaic, Israel Studies
The chair of Dartmouth College’s Jewish studies program said the pro-boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activist recently promoted to a top administrative position at the school has been a “great friend” of her program, including supporting courses related to Israel.
Susannah Heschel told The Algemeiner on Monday that N. Bruce Duthu — who was appointed the dean of faculty in March, after signing and allegedly co-writing a BDS statement for the Council of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) in 2013 — has never “said or indicated anything antisemitic or anti-Israel” in the year that she’s worked with him in his role as an associate dean. She said Duthu has helped facilitate the bringing of Israeli scholars to Dartmouth, voted in favor of an exchange program with Israeli students. Heschel added that Duthu recently told her he was invited to and plans to speak at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University this fall.
Heschel — the daughter of late famed civil rights leader Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel — called Duthu the “best dean I’ve ever worked with, ” but maintained that she was “torn” by his anti-Israel connections.
“On the one hand, I am vocally and publicly opposed to BDS,” she said, noting that she was featured in an video released last month extolling the power of cooperating with Israeli scholars. “But, on the other hand, [Duthu] has been a fantastic supporter, and he’s never said anything, in countless meetings, against Israel.”
Heschel called on Duthu to release a strong statement repudiating BDS, and explained that “as an educator, that’s what I want: for people to learn and change their minds.”
She criticized the opposition to Duthu that has been expressed by her Dartmouth colleague, economics professor Alan Gustman, who went public last week with a letter in which he slammed BDS as “profoundly anti-Jewish” and called Duthu’s “public advocacy” for BDS a “direct conflict” with the role of dean.
In that letter, Gustman also referenced a decades-old history of antisemitism at Dartmouth as reason to reject Duthu.
“I resent that he suggests Dartmouth is antisemitic. I’ve been here for 20 years, and it isn’t,” Heschel said, noting that the Jewish studies program has one-third of the student population enrolled in classes, and that the campus has never had an Israeli Apartheid Week or a student BDS campaign. She added that Gustman had rejected overtures from herself and others to discuss the Duthu issue before his letter was released.
Gustman told The Algemeiner that he has received support from many of his colleagues.
He also said that he has “refused to meet with Professor Duthu” because “[m]y view is that any private assurance he provides to me is irrelevant given his public support for BDS.”
But Sandor Farkas, the outgoing editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth Review and a passionate supporter of Israel, begged understanding for a “a guy who did something stupid and objectionable, and has been backed into a corner.”
“It’s weird, because Duthu’s voted in favor of a number of programs with Israel, and he’s signed this BDS statement,” Farkas said. “It seems he fundamentally doesn’t see how there’s a conflict between his actions.”
Farkas demanded that Duthu — with whom he’ll be meeting on Tuesday — issue nothing short of an unequivocal denunciation of anti-Israel views, but added that “refusing to acknowledge the difficulty an individual has in publicly changing his mind is rude.”
“It can’t be an easy thing,” he said, adding that anyone who must publicly adjust a position “gets a lot of heat from all sides.”
Sergei Kan — a Dartmouth professor of anthropology and Native American studies — told The Algemeiner he is a close friend of Duthu, and thinks the incoming dean’s “actions at the college have not reflected or been in line with the NAISA statement.”
Kan — who severed his own ties with NAISA over his strong opposition to its BDS position — said that although “it isn’t a good thing that only a few years ago a person held this sort of [boycott] ideology,” he firmly believes Duthu’s actions as dean of Faculty would reflect his proactive record in support of Jewish studies and Israel as seen this past year, rather than BDS dictates.
Farkas, who is graduating this spring, said he was concerned this controversy would change a campus that has been “very mellow when it comes to Israel and welcoming to the Jewish community.”
“One of the really bad things about an incident like this is how it fractures us [the Jewish community],” he said. He added he believed Gustman’s letter “politicized Israel as a launching pad to attack the incompetent administration’s horrible decision in appointing [Duthu],” and said it was “despicable” to use Israel as a tool to “gain publicity for some other cause.”
Duthu has been skewered by public figures such as Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who wrote on Twitter that the appointment was more evidence of universities “becoming hotbeds for Leftist intolerance and anti-Israel hatred.” Meanwhile, Stephen Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation, declared his opposition to Duthu with invocations of the Holocaust and the Kindertransport rescue effort.
“[I]magine all the unrealized talent that has been extinguished — during the Holocaust and other humanitarian calamities — based on the senseless hatred and suspicion of entire groups,” Smith wrote, in a comparison with the intentions of BDS that Heschel — an expert on German Jewish-Christian relations during World War Two — called “odd” and “out of place.”
A Dartmouth spokesperson, Justin Anderson, told The Algemeiner, “As a member of the administration, Bruce Duthu firmly supports the [anti-BDS] institutional position,” and reiterated that Duthu has the “full confidence” of the administration.
Duthu has not responded to The Algemeiner’s request for comment.